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December 28, 1999
Pak cross-border terrorism 'real serious issue': US
Even as the world is agog over the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight IC-814, US Ambassador to India Richard F Celeste has said that the issue of cross-border terrorism and the support it gets from Pakistan is a ''real serious issue'' and the US has expressed concern about it to the leadership of Pakistan, both former and present.
In an interview to Asia Defence News International, he said that both the US and India, ''big, visible, democratic'' countries are going to be affected by terrorism.
''So I believe that we ought to build a relationship in which we can discuss every issue...''
Answering a query, Celeste said the issue of cross-border terrorism and the support it gets from Pakistan is a real serious issue and the US government has conveyed its concern to Pakistan leaders. Excerpts from the interview:
The US has a ''no negotiation policy'' towards terrorism. Then when is it that it has reservations about Indian action against militants, mercenaries and the Taleban who have been carrying on a proxy war against India at the behest of Pakistan? And what prevents the US from declaring Pakistan a terrorist state?
In our procedures we begin by looking at terrorist organisations and identifying them. You know we have identified the Harkat-ul-Ansar as a terrorist organisation, we have identified the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam as a terrorist organisation. We look at others.
Recently we had a senior official from the department of state of counter-terrorism, Michael Sheen, in Delhi for a brief visit.
He spoke to the most senior officials of the government of India about our desire to cooperate. We have had FBI agents visit India from time to time. We have talked to Indian authorities about terrorism. We have a particular concern because we had an American hostage in Kashmir four years ago. We would like to greatly strengthen the cooperation between our two countries in the field of fighting terrorism.
Ultimately the decision whether any country is declared a terrorist state is made at the highest levels of our government and in that situation I cannot give you a very knowledgeable answer about what the details are and how these deliberations are made.
But I would like to point out that we have not hesitated to declare organisations active in Kashmir to be on our terrorist list and to undertake sanctions against them.
Does the US agree or subscribe to the view that these terrorist organisations are funded and morally supported by Pakistan directly or indirectly?
We have certainly trusted the government of Pakistan to do everything it can to ensure that cross-border terrorism does not take place.
Because now I have been two years in India I am more and more aware of an experience of interviews like this, that is, we find ourselves talking most of the time about the United States and India and yet people ask why is US equating India and Pakistan. I don't think our relationship should be judged what we do vis-a-vis Pakistan.
Our relationship should be judged on what we do vis-a-vis India. Maybe good, maybe bad. That's right way I think how we view India and how we view Pakistan.
In the last couple of years perhaps for the first time in many, many years we look at India on its own terms and not because we think that relations between India and Pakistan are unimportant, terrorism issues are unimportant but I want to make the point that it goes to show the changing relationship between the United States and India.
Your excellency, I could put our relationship in a different form. Unfortunately, the relations between India and the US on Pakistan.... Let me explain: today America is softer towards India because of certain recent developments in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Today, America has for the first time after Osama bin Laden and other incidents realised that Pakistan is supporting terrorism and is openly defying the US. To counter that America has shifted its policies to prop up India.
I heard that point of view and I realise that point of view is held by many here but I think it is important to look at the historical record.
We actually began to change our policies toward India more than two years ago. Before I came here you may remember that Tom Pickering, the under secretary of state for political affairs, came to India in mid-1997 to talk about a change in US policies in which we wanted to broaden the dialogue and enter into a strategic dialogue and the goal was to have President Bill Clinton visit here in February, 1998.
Now this was before Osama bin Laden became a high-profile figure. This was before many of the events people look in Pakistan to explain the change in the US policies. It was based, frankly, in President Clinton's own instinctive belief that it was time that the United States and India to have a qualitatively better relationship.
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